The Daily Telegraph
Deaf sheepdog gets the thumbs up (and a wave) to go back to the job it loves
AN ELDERLY sheepdog that went deaf can round up flocks again after a shepherd taught it sign language.
Peggy, a border collie, was given to the RSPCA after its lack of hearing meant it could no longer work on a farm.
Chloe Shorten, an animal welfare manager at the charity, and her husband, Jason, a shepherd, adopted the eight-year-old collie in December 2018, promising to get Peggy “back to the job she loved”.
Sheepdogs are traditionally trained to obey whistles or voice commands with short, simple instructions such as “away”, “come-by” and “steady”.
But the couple from Norfolk have trained Peggy to understand commands with hand signals, body language and “positive and repetitive” reinforcement.
The eager sheepdog has learnt to recognise gestures such as a thumbs up, meaning “good girl”, and a flat, outstretched palm telling it to stop. To ask Peggy to slow down, Mrs Shorten makes a waving gesture as if slowing down a car. They also point to mark where they want Peggy to go and will pat their knees to summon it back to them. Mrs Shorten said: “We [fell] in love with Peggy almost immediately, and it soon became clear that she wouldn’t be going anywhere.
“We knew Peggy wanted to be working so we started [teaching] her how to herd and work with a shepherd without relying on voice commands.” The couple taught Peggy with the help of a sheepdog trainer and their other two working sheepdogs. Although the collie, which Mrs Shorten says is “no spring chicken”, is “generally retired”, it goes out to work with Mrs Shorten’s husband.
When it is time to play, Peggy has to wear a GPS tracker as it runs around so enthusiastically and cannot hear its owners calling it back. Mrs Shorten added: “It can be difficult with a deaf dog, because you have to wave at them to get their attention, and sometimes she doesn’t realise straight away.”